No dead blue penguins washing up in Gisborne

All good on the coast: There have been no reports of dead blue penguins found on Gisborne beaches says DoC. File picture

Disturbing reports of dead little blue penguins washing up on beaches have prompted multiple inquiries from Gisborne residents to the Department of Conservation (DoC).

Public sightings and reports from DoC staff have come mainly from the East Coast of the North Island and from the Far North region down to Bay of Plenty.

As yet, no reports have been made to DoC of any blue penguins washing up dead in the Gisborne region.

There is no estimate of the total numbers washed ashore but rates at which birds have been found on beaches suggest it is in the low thousands.

Other seabirds also washing up in lesser numbers include fluttering shearwaters and Australasian gannets.

DoC seabird expert Graeme Taylor says the primary factor driving this mortality event has been the La Nina weather conditions.

“La Nina weather events lead to increased winds from the east and north direction in northern New Zealand over the summer and there has also been an increase in storms from the tropics (ex-tropical cyclones), with strong winds and very rough seas.

La Nina wind and sea conditions result in seabirds dying at sea and being washed up on East Coast beaches

“These wind directions and sea conditions result in seabirds dying at sea and being washed up on East Coast beaches.

“Normally with prevailing westerly winds, dead seabirds drift away from the East Coast out into the ocean or wash up on West Coast beaches.”

DoC reports the last spring season resulted in good breeding numbers for penguins nesting in many areas.

Little blue penguins lay two eggs and can raise two chicks.

Often there is a dominant chick in the nest, leaving the smaller, weaker chicks more at risk when they head out to sea in late November and December.

“It seems like a lot of young chicks were reared last spring on the northern offshore islands (many of which are now free of introduced predators) and once at sea, a lot of these birds have struggled to find food,” said Mr Taylor.

“Warmer seas over the summer affects food availability and storms can weaken penguins, so many may have died of starvation and washed back on to the East Coast beaches.”

Large scale mortality events for little blue penguins seem to occur every 10 to 20 years, according to The Ornithological Society of New Zealand beach patrol scheme, which keeps records of seabirds that wash up on beaches.

This database indicates that more than 3000 little blue penguins came ashore in 1974 and also in 1998.

In other years, such as 1999, there were about 1000 little blue penguins found dead on beaches.

Provided these events only happen once or twice every decade, the penguin populations should be able to recover in the good years.

Further south in New Zealand, La Nina conditions don’t normally cause a problem for seabirds.

“Cold subantarctic currents moving northwards along the East Coast of the South Island provide good foraging conditions for little blue penguins,” said Mr Taylor. This is the only area in New Zealand where little blue penguins can rear two clutches in a season.

“The current penguin event up north should not impact on the Oamaru penguin colony.”

Disturbing reports of dead little blue penguins washing up on beaches have prompted multiple inquiries from Gisborne residents to the Department of Conservation (DoC).

Public sightings and reports from DoC staff have come mainly from the East Coast of the North Island and from the Far North region down to Bay of Plenty.

As yet, no reports have been made to DoC of any blue penguins washing up dead in the Gisborne region.

There is no estimate of the total numbers washed ashore but rates at which birds have been found on beaches suggest it is in the low thousands.

Other seabirds also washing up in lesser numbers include fluttering shearwaters and Australasian gannets.

DoC seabird expert Graeme Taylor says the primary factor driving this mortality event has been the La Nina weather conditions.

“La Nina weather events lead to increased winds from the east and north direction in northern New Zealand over the summer and there has also been an increase in storms from the tropics (ex-tropical cyclones), with strong winds and very rough seas.

La Nina wind and sea conditions result in seabirds dying at sea and being washed up on East Coast beaches

“These wind directions and sea conditions result in seabirds dying at sea and being washed up on East Coast beaches.

“Normally with prevailing westerly winds, dead seabirds drift away from the East Coast out into the ocean or wash up on West Coast beaches.”

DoC reports the last spring season resulted in good breeding numbers for penguins nesting in many areas.

Little blue penguins lay two eggs and can raise two chicks.

Often there is a dominant chick in the nest, leaving the smaller, weaker chicks more at risk when they head out to sea in late November and December.

“It seems like a lot of young chicks were reared last spring on the northern offshore islands (many of which are now free of introduced predators) and once at sea, a lot of these birds have struggled to find food,” said Mr Taylor.

“Warmer seas over the summer affects food availability and storms can weaken penguins, so many may have died of starvation and washed back on to the East Coast beaches.”

Large scale mortality events for little blue penguins seem to occur every 10 to 20 years, according to The Ornithological Society of New Zealand beach patrol scheme, which keeps records of seabirds that wash up on beaches.

This database indicates that more than 3000 little blue penguins came ashore in 1974 and also in 1998.

In other years, such as 1999, there were about 1000 little blue penguins found dead on beaches.

Provided these events only happen once or twice every decade, the penguin populations should be able to recover in the good years.

Further south in New Zealand, La Nina conditions don’t normally cause a problem for seabirds.

“Cold subantarctic currents moving northwards along the East Coast of the South Island provide good foraging conditions for little blue penguins,” said Mr Taylor. This is the only area in New Zealand where little blue penguins can rear two clutches in a season.

“The current penguin event up north should not impact on the Oamaru penguin colony.”

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Beachcomber - 6 months ago
I couldn't help but notice that no dead Aardvarks were washed ashore either.

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